Leaders will never have to think long and hard as long as they think that they are not beholden to the people that elected them. We currently have a worst-case scenario wherein the President received approval from the voters during the last election, which naturally was taken as approval of his actions as a whole.
The question, then, is how do we make politicians responsive to the electorate? In some cases that is a desirable thing (like now) but in other cases it is important that our leaders be insulated from the electorate, because if government is too responsive our national policies will be forever vague and too subject to the vagaries of popular opinion.
Further, we have the concept of a volunteer military. We have created substantial incentive for people to join up, and for a lot of people it is both a way to get a leg up and a way to show their patriotism (as it is for me). As long as people continue to volunteer they will be subjected to orders that in some cases make perfect sense but do not in other cases. Interestingly, due to the reductions in force we are running into a situation where the politicians have painted themselves into a corner, because the force structure is so small that they now have to pick and choose their battles (an example is that we are so absorbed by Iraq that we have no force option for Iran, which is clearly the next flashpoint). Regardless, due to the nature of volunteerism nobody can say that they didn’t know what they were getting into, thus reducing the military to mere foreign policy pawns with little right to object and no right to refuse.
Why, then, should the politicians be overly concerned about the results of their decisions? How can we make it clear to them if we continue to re-elect them? How can we make it clear to the new crop if we vote the incumbents out? We can’t. It’s simply not possible. We do not have direct democracy, we have no mechanism for recall, we have no recourse.
There’s simply no way. We have to depend on the consciences of our leaders, our wisdom in our judgment of their judgment, and our limited abilities to sway their decisions. If you’re against the war in Iraq, it’s easy to see that we have failed in all three cases. If you’re in favor of the war you’re perfectly happy with the decisions made. Such is the nature of our schizophrenic electorate.
In any event, while war should not be undertaken lightly, we can’t hamstring our leaders to the point where it is impossible. We can’t take the stick completely away, but we should encourage more use of the carrot.